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By Zach Cavanagh

Captain Chris Pica (left) of Dana Wharf’s Reel Fun holds a 52-pound seabass caught by Owen Burnside (right) of Coto de Caza on Saturday, August 22. Photo: Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching

Even a pandemic can’t put a damper on a good fish story.

As a half-day trip prepared to make its return to Dana Point Harbor on Saturday, Aug. 22, Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching’s Reel Fun made one last stop at the reef off the coast of T-Street Beach in San Clemente.

Bass fishing has been great, as the water temperatures have risen up to 78 degrees, and Reel Fun Captain Chris Pica tried to capitalize on that for his anglers.

That’s where Owen Burnside of Coto de Caza entered into this fish story. Fishing is a sport of skill, intuition and instinct, but there’s also an element of luck in it. Burnside figured into the latter on Saturday.

Burnside’s live sardine bait had been swallowed by a hungry calico bass. And that hooked calico looked appetizing to a passing hungry seabass, which knocked the calico bass off the hook trying to devour it. However, that was folly for the seabass, as the fish hooked itself onto Burnside’s line. It was quite the upgrade for Burnside, as he reeled in the banner catch of the week with this 52-pound seabass (pictured above).

Not everyone is catching 50-pound fish, but post-reopening business has been strong for Dana Wharf Sportfishing & Whale Watching.

Dana Wharf had to shut down operations on March 17, but since reopening on May 25, business has been booming, which Dana Wharf managing partner Donna Kalez attributes to their loyal customers.

“Every single fishing boat has been sold out to capacity,” Kalez said. “We’ve had zero problems with that. During the closure, we had these dates that we were working off of, and they kept getting moved. But our customers were very resilient.”

Dana Wharf customers with reservations kept working with the new dates, and when they finally came back, they returned to a world of new protocols on the boats to which they had become familiar.

Kalez said the Dana Wharf boats have stringent safety protocols and sanitation standards, and the biggest change has been reduced capacity on all of the boats. After Dana Wharf measured all of its boats for mandated 6-foot social distancing, Kalez said almost all the boats are operating at 50% capacity.

While anglers were initially hesitant to jump onto the big-trip boats, Kalez said they saw a rise in demand for private charters, which feature six-person parties on one boat. The “six-pack” charters have proven to be popular, as have the smaller-capacity trips.

“We can’t make up what we lost,” Kalez said. “We just have to continue what we’ve always done. Hopefully, when we get to Stage 4 (of the state’s reopening plans), we can get full boats, but our loyal customers are loving the lower capacity.”

Overall, things are trending back up at Dana Wharf.

After being interrupted in March, the Halibut Derby had a successful conclusion in May, as a January halibut catch of 22 pounds, 5 ounces by Cher Owens held up as the winner.

Dana Wharf also had a successful summer camp for kids in June. Kalez said they had sold out the three weeks of camps in March, and nobody budged off their reservations after the closures.


Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a multiple California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at

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